Local councils and authorities are being ‘bullied’ into approving plans for new and extended supermarket stores, a team of independent researchers has alleged.

In a report by the Sunday Telegraph, researchers from the think tank New Economics Foundation said that in addition to powerful legal departments, tricks, inducements and campaigns were among the tactics being deployed by top retailers in order to gain planning approval for expanding their stores.

In what the team analogised as a David and Goliath battle, a spokesman told the Sunday Telegraph that councillors and planning officers were often put under intense pressure, and local authorities often had to question the risk of the cost of drawn-out legal battles with better-resourced giant chain retailers.

Rejected proposals are often simply resubmitted and some supermarkets even undertake door-to-door canvassing to influence council decisions, the spokesman said.

The criticism comes just before Tesco is due to announce record pre-tax profits of nearly £2.2 billion. It is speculated the supermarket chain will juggle its current property portfolio in order to release value from its assets over the coming years. The proceeds of the re-jig will be fed back to shareholders and used to expand in the UK and abroad. Britain currently houses 1,819 Tesco stores, and company executives estimate around 600 more Express stores could be built by 2015.

Following its own survey of local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales, the Sunday Telegraph estimated the top four supermarkets - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons - had applied for around 230 stores and extensions; the equivalent of194 football pitches.